And then what happened?

I just reread Guy de Maupassant’s story, The Necklace.

Since I was eight years old, I’ve read that story many times, but only today did I question my original childhood reaction of open-mouthed delight. What a terrible ending! How ironic! How delicious!

Today, I saw that the story as written ends at the beginning of the real story.

Here’s how the story goes:

Mathilde Loisel and her husband destroy their youth and health in their effort to pay for the diamond necklace they bought to replace one that was loaned to her, but which she lost. After the debt is paid, Mathilde meets the friend she borrowed it from, only to find out the borrowed necklace had been fake, not diamond at all.

The end.

Umm… ‘scuse me? Then what happens?

Does Mathilde punch her friend in the nose? Is she arrested while screaming that she wasted her life?

Does the friend say, “Thanks, Mattie! I gave the necklace to my daughter. She can sell it and buy that little house on the lake”?

Does the friend offer to repay them? This is the most poignant possibility.

Mathilde and her husband got into this fix because she was poor and beautiful, and wanted to experience one night of luxury at a ball. The gratification of this innocent desire cost them both ten years of drudgery and extreme poverty as they expended every effort to pay off the loans they needed to buy the diamonds.

If the friend repaid them, Mathilde could live an easier life with a few of the luxuries she’d once longed for. But the last ten years turned her into a coarse, rough woman used to a coarse, rough life. All her youthful elegance was destroyed by their struggle.

The most vital story would be this:

How do Mathilde and her husband face the kind of life they could live, now that they’re no longer the kind of people who could live that life?

I understand that the reader is supposed to realize this dilemma, and the realization is supposed to effectively substitute for the writer’s exploration of the dilemma. But why shouldn’t the writer explore it?

It’s pretty much taken for granted that stories should have a conventional ending, like marriage or death. The girl/guy gets the guy/girl. The criminals are caught. The adventurers return home. The youth reaches the epiphany that indicates the beginning of maturity. But are these the best endings?

Aren’t most stories really just the setup for the more complex, difficult, fascinating story that starts after The End?

By S.J. Driscoll